What Johnny Depp Reads (and Recommends You Read)

“Johnny Depp’s choice. You’re probably curious what kinds of books the Hollywood star reads. We’ll tell you in order, taking Lewis Carroll and Roald Dahl off the table.”

This is a screenshot of an email I received yesterday from LitRes, Russia’s top ebook distributor and seller. Aside from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey (visible here), Johnny Depp’s alleged “choice” of books, available for purchase on LitRes, includes Joanne Harris’s Chocolat, James Joyce’s Ulysses, Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s The Flanders Panel, and Hunter Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

This is the second time since Russia’s brutal, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine began that LitRes has celebrated the alleged literary tastes of a violent Hollywood bully. In April, two weeks after Will Smith’s assault on comedian Chris Rock at the Oscars, LitRes treated its customers (including me: I’ve purchased 109 otherwise inaccessible Russian books from them over the last several years, my account profile tells me) to “Will Smith’s choice.”

It occurred to me at the time, sadly, that if it had not been for the war, Russia’s chattering classes, including many of the currently exiled “anti-war” liberals, would have happily spent the week following Smith’s violent outburst discussing, just as, before the war, they had been keen to discuss almost anything in the world (especially if it concerned the United States and “the West”) except the dismal political and social circumstances at home in the Motherland. In the recent past, for example, the Russian chatterati chewed over the January 6 coup attempt and the reaction to George Floyd’s murder with supreme relish and satisfaction, often coming to conclusions, however, that would make an observer like me wonder how “liberal” the “liberal” opposition to Putin really was. For example, an acquaintance of mine from Petersburg, a well-known grassroots human rights activist, was so convinced that the anti-police demonstrations in the US were, essentially, little better than the anti-semitic pogroms her ancestors had endured in the early twentieth century that she “unfriended” me for arguing that they were nothing of the sort.

Similarly, one of Russia’s leading opposition political scientists and sociologists, Greg Yudin, who has now risen to some prominence for his courageous public anti-war statements and actions, wrote a longish comment on Facebook on January 7, 2020, that includes the following hilarious assessment of the previous day’s events in Washington:

Nothing terrible happened in Washington. Basically, the protest was peaceful and calm – people entered the building of their own parliament, took selfies, sat in chairs, and dispersed. Capitol Hill will not collapse because men with dogs and ladies in down jackets strolled around it. The people who, apparently, broke windows, sprayed pepper spray, and called for storming television stations, should be investigated. Otherwise, the congressmen had a little scare and had to stay in session until four in the morning. It’s okay, they’ll live through it.

Michelle Goldberg argued in the New York Times yesterday that Johnny Depp’s lawsuit against Amber Heard and his legal team’s demolition of her character in the courtroom and online is emblematic of “a #MeToo backlash,” and part of “a broader misogynist frenzy at work, one characteristic of the deeply reactionary moment we’re living through.”


In Russia, the “misogynist frenzy” has deepened with every year that the Putin regime has remained in power (even to the point of decriminalizing domestic violence), and would-be opposition “liberals” have been involved in this backlash as well. You’d never know it nowadays (and, seemingly, there is no one who would dare to remember it anymore) but the Riga-based Russian liberal news website Meduza ended up on the wrong side of decency in 2018 when its editor-in-chief was accused of sexual harassment. What this otherwise comprehensive article on the scandal by BuzzFeed doesn’t tell you, for obvious reasons, is that the Ivan Kolpakov resigned from the top post at Meduza only to be quietly reappointed to it a short time later, after the dust had settled. He’s still in that post today, and is now an internationally celebrated champion of press freedom, whose website is hard up for cash.

(Excuse me my bitterness at Meduza, but they can never been forgive for this crime against basic solidarity and sound journalism, which has demonstrably led to more suffering for young men convicted of a crime that they didn’t commit and which, even more insanely, no one committed.)

I haven’t seen any discussion yet of Depp v. Heard on liberal Russian social media, but it is being covered in a predictably misogynist way by Russia’s online tabloids, as a quick Google search for the words “Johnny Depp trial” suggests:

Two of these “top stories” have salacious headlines claiming that “Johnny Depp’s attorney Camille Vasquez gets Amber Heard to come clean.”

It’s no wonder, then, that LitRes imagines that its customers will be delighted to show their solidarity with an “unjustly” accused, violently misogynistic bully, who also happens to a big Hollywood star whose movies they have enjoyed for years, thus making him “svoi” (“one of their own”), just like, paradoxically (given the prevalence of anti-Black racism in Russia), Will Smith. Nor is it any wonder that this celebration of anti-wokeness happens right as the big bad West (the anti-Johnny Depp and anti-Will Smith West) attempts to “cancel” Russia for its violent, unprovoked attack on its “weaker” neighbor.

As Dmitry Volchek argued yesterday in this feuilleton on Radio Svoboda, the threat of “cancellation” animates Russia’s “anti-war” liberals and lefty creatives much more than the silly war itself, much less the war’s victims in Ukraine. |||| TRR

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